September 29, 2005
Marching As To War

Kos makes light of the importance of mass protests like the recent peace march in Washington, D.C. He reasons that now is not 1968, and mass protests no longer have much impact in shaping or changing the national mood, and they soak up energy that could be best used in activities like blogging and local political work.

This is wrong. Mass protests have an important value that Markos has overlooked. The target audience for a big D.C. march nowadays is not the nation as a whole. I’m betting Kos has never lived in or near D.C. The people who do include a heavy plurality of the nation’s journalistic, political, and lobbyist elite, what the Note obnoxiously calls “The Gang of 500,” who shape much of the media’s low-level conventional wisdom, which in turn drives coverage decisions and word choices in the press across the nation. Moreover, also resident in D.C. is another important Gang of 535 – the members of Congress (and their staffers).

All of these people physically see and hear the protests, and if a protest is big, the daily routines of these folks are affected. Even if they don’t go down to the mall to check things out – and many do, especially the reporters who can pretend they are working by heading down to the mall – they still feel the impact based on road and bridge closings, detours, and the like.

It is easy for these D.C. denizens to gauge whether a protest is big or not, and it all goes into the hopper when a reporter ponders whether to shift from calling a president “popular” to “embattled,” or a when a Republican member of Congress decides that he can safely shift from aggressively hyping the Iraq war to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode, or maybe even come out for a withdrawal timetable. The recent good-sized peace protest had a particularly magnified impact in this regard because the counter-demonstration was so pathetic and tiny. The view from inside the brain of the average Washington bureau chief or political hack: “Big vs. little; duly noted.”

So I agree with Kos – no impact on the average voter or thinker in Nebraska; but potential real and heavy impact on important political and journalistic decisions that are then filtered back to Nebraska.


Posted by Wayne Uff at September 29, 2005 06:58 AM
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Right on, Wayne. Inside the beltway matters, perhaps unfortunately. Bill Clinton was almost driven from office by a scandal that had legs only among Washington's chattering classes. Who were baffled as to where the outrage was.

Posted by: Nugatory on September 29, 2005 4:02 PM

Funny you should post this now; just as I unsubscribed from the New Republic (having put up with them for too long now) because they just sent me an email with links to articles denigrating the Washington protests. The lesson for the media is to change or lose your audience

Posted by: Buck on September 29, 2005 4:07 PM

Notice something about all of the suggested alternatives Kos gives (except for Cindy Sheehan's protest in Crawford): they are all impersonal, long-distance methods of 'protest'. "[L]etters to the editor, contributions to anti-war candidates, politicians, and organizations, calls and letters to their elected officials, creating anti-war media;" these are all almost entirely detached, and to a one remove both the emotional impact of mass protests and the personal risk (however minimal) one must take. Besides, who reads those letters to politicians? Lowly staffers who just file them away. And they're a blur, one cranky constituent after another, rather than an intimidating mass of hundreds of thousands of people. Sure, you get a few idiots in any protest, but they mostly become subsumed into the collective outrage, whereas in calls and letters, each one individually stands out. And, as you note, Wayne, actual physical impact on D.C. in the form of so many people demanding to be heard is impossible for the politicos and reporters to ignore.

Posted by: qubit on September 29, 2005 4:43 PM

All other forms of protest are important and will be enhanced by the renewed energy that the protests will give those who participate in them. I wish I had been there. I remember fondly the protests that I engaged in during the Viet Nam war. Would it have been more effective if the all those people had stayed home and watched footbal on TV? Please.

Posted by: tstreet on September 29, 2005 5:10 PM

You know this argument is really inane. We seem to be getting it from a lot of the "voices" out there.
How much time does it really take for a group of people to go to Washington? A day or two and then everyone goes about their business.

...but the point made, if repeated enough, is not forgotten.

Now, where is that Woodstock album that I keep going back to?
Time to listen to some of the good old songs from the good old days.

Posted by: Buck on September 29, 2005 6:46 PM

Adding my voice to the crowd, in more ways than one…

I don't buy Kos's argument at all. Media savvy will not carry a movement farther than a march of half a million people. And we can blog till we're blue in the face; we encourage each other, and that's of great value, but does Congress care? Not likely. What rattles their cages is a huge crowd in the streets of DC.

To me, it seems that those who are committed to a political party have one way of doing things. Those who are committed to an ideology have another. I don't give a shit about the Democrats. I want Peace, Justice, Environmental Protection, No Racism. The Democrats have often voted against those things, so I'm against the Democrats, if not quite as much as I'm against the Republicans. Kos's $120,000 a year (according to The New Yorker) derives in part from his close association with the party. I say, the party comes to me, or I dump them. I'm not adopting their position, they're adopting mine, or they continue to do without my vote. And, it appears, without the votes of the majority of our fellow citizens.

And as usual qubit is on the money. Letters, blogs, contributions are all fine. Direct action is the only thing that scares politicians. And in this advanced state of decline of the American empire, in which it's every politician for him- or herself, fear of the electorate is the only tool likely to generate change.

Perhaps Kos is comfortable with less radical change than I require. That's his, and every American's, right. I think his argument is full of it.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on September 30, 2005 1:31 AM

I have been in Washington many times protesting many issues and yes, it is true that our message get diluted when many different groups with different agendas join a march which has been planned with one single focus in mind. Then the media publishes photos of signs that have nothing to do with the main issue while always minimizing the size of the crowd - a given-

This being said, our protest on Sept. 24th reminded me of the outrage we expressed at the decision of the Supreme Court in the 2000 Elections. However, this time it was not only outrage and anger that brought us back on the streets but a determination to force King Bush to end the war on Iraq, bring our troops home and to let him know that we are not stopping there and we will continue to protest and demand accountability for each life lost for his lies.
Democrats, Republicans, Independants, Greens... we were in Washington in unisson.

The way I see it, is that a protest here and there during the course of a year won't accomplish much. We need to keep the momentum and organize protests in each city on the same day at least once/ month and why not every week? If there is one single thing Bush did well (sic) it is to repeat over and over again what he wanted the majority to believe, let's learn from that and repeat over and over again what we stand for. The more we speak out, the more people join us, the more the politicians will be forced to listen. Am I an idiologist? you bet, but as an activist for peace and justice I will never give up.

Last note: Yes, letters to the Editors are important. Even if they do not publish, they read them all, and better yet: people read them and in turn, very often respond to them. Now, this is a small contribution but a proof that (some) people are paying attention.

Posted by: Monique on September 30, 2005 11:58 PM

Your marching is inspiring, Monique, and I wish my knees would let me do the same.

An alternative for the weak-kneed is visibility events. A bunch of people go to some high-traffic public place, display signs, and wave energetically for a little while. I did this for Dean in a courthouse square with 6 inches of snow and a lot of wind. I felt silly and like I wasn't accomplishing anything except tempting pneumonia. But when a fellow campaigner did the same thing for a state rep candidate, I saw that it looked good and drew positive attention. There's a group of war protesters called Women in Black who do this weekly but call it a vigil, and they've been written up in the newspaper several times, at least once with pictures. I think I'll do more of this "mini-marching."

Letters to the editor are always good, I think. Mine have been in national news magazines and newspapers, as well as locally. I have e-acquaintanceships with a few reporters and editors that maybe I can draw on in the future. One of my rapid response coworkers sends three or four letters a day, every day, and he's often in dialogue with columnists and editors. When they hear from you, they can't help considering your viewpoint as they put together their publications.

I also write to TV news shows at times. Keith Olbermann writes back! I should do more of this, especially to programs that show e-letters on the screen, but the problem is that I don't watch much TV.

I halfheartedly write to senators et al. I suspect the staff mostly counts pro and con, which is important, but it isn't worth any rhetorical flourishes to me. I never get any response from Specter; I always get long, dense, irrelevant snailmail letters from Santorum.

I comment on blogs a little and give more money than I can afford, objectively speaking. And like Chuck, I want more change than a change of ruling party.

Posted by: Joy on October 1, 2005 8:53 PM

I still like the idea of a bunch of blogs getting together and having everybody tie up some jerk in Washington's phone all week on something important.
Usually they have 800 numbers, and if enough people call in, I'm suspect they get the message; don't know if they listen though.

Posted by: Buck on October 1, 2005 9:27 PM
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